Friday, April 16, 2010

Grammar Police strikes early

Sometimes I wake up in the kind of mood where I sort of vaguely want to be helpful. This morning I guess was kind of like that. I got a mass email from Un Techo Para mi País, which is what Un Techo Para Chile is part of. For the non Spanish-speakers, a small lesson:

un (one, in the case where the following word is masculine, otherwise it's una)
techo (roof, as in bajo techo can mean "indoor" or at least "shaded."
para (one of two words for for, the other of which is por, and most native English speakers still get hives when trying to explain the difference)
mi (my, not me)
país (country)

So Un Techo Para Mi País is a nonprofit that helps to build rooves, and the houses underneath them for people who are currently sin techo (homeless, literally, roofless). It does this in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. As you may have heard, Chile has way more people living in encampments and inadequate housing than we used to, due to the 8.8 earthquake suffered on February 27th.

Un Techo Para mi País, sent out a mass email this morning with a giant, glaring, unforgiveable grammatical error.

Can you spot it?

Captura de pantalla 2010-04-16 a las 19.11.26

So I sent them a very nice email in my sweetest tone of Spanish writing, assuring them that I know I'm not a native Spanish speaker, and apologizing for any errors I may have made (and I'm sure they were various), and letting them know that there's been a small snafu. The second sentence also reads strangely, but at least it's not getting ten points off the grammar section.

And do you know what happened? Remember what happens when I make fun of grammatical errors, as I did here? Quick like bunnies, changes are made, and I stand around scratching my head because I wonder if I imagined it and had failed to take a screen capture (mac, command shift 3, you won't regret it!), and then nothing.

But you know what happened here? I got a thank you, a "you're correct" thank you for supporting our cause and a have a nice day.

I didn't get a personalized email for the part where I "signed" a "check" (by which I mean, clicked the button on paypal), which took a bit more effort on my part, but any organization that can find it in its bureaucracy to write me a little note deserves a shout out. Plus they do good work. So if you're wondering what to do with your tax return (or a portion thereof) when you get it, might I suggest looking for an organization that helps people with some basic needs? It may be grammatically incorrect from time to time, but winter's a coming somewhere in the world, and we're all just a bit shaken up at the moment.

Edited to add: and if you want to see what it looks like when glaring mistakes are published (in Spanish) by the Chilean government, give Abby's post a read.


Sara said...

I probably would have told them too, but is it just me or is the awkward reading sentence sort of cute?

Kristin said...

Is sin techo the word for homeless people? I asked my Mexican Spanish teacher once and she told me "gente de la calle" which doesn't exactly sounds right...Sounds like a great cause though!

Eileen said...

Sara, yeah, I was feeling the love with them. Apparently they were feeling it, too.

Kristin, I would say "gente sin casa or gente sin techo (most probably) or gente sin hogar, but not gente de la calle," not because it's linguistically wrong necessarily, but because it's sounds offensive to my ear. But google reveals there's actually a foundation here in Chile with that as a name, so I guess it has some validity, though I still probably wouldn't choose it.

Thanks for commenting, btw.

Rachel said...

Funny you should post about grammar. Since I've moved to Valparaíso I've been shocked at the number of professionally designed advertisements and signs with
GLARING grammatical errors. (Yesterday at the mall I spotted one on a giant poster in an American-based international shoe store.)

Love your blog and your articles on Matador! Let me know if you're ever around Valpo!



Eileen said...

Hi Rachel, thanks for leaving a comment! You'd think after all these years in Chile I'd either grow accustomed to the mistakes or stop caring, but, like you, I just get so frustrated. It's not like there aren't people around who speak English. Ask one. Just because your godson's aunt lived in Detroit for a semester does not mean she speaks English! Maybe we could have little cards printed up and just hand them in in places with egregious grammar errors?

Or maybe we should just snicker about them here.

Thanks for the kudos re: blog and Matador. I'm blushing! Do you have a profile there? It's a great community.

Kristin said...

what to call a homeless person has now intrigued me (I don't want to be offensive) so I asked my Puerto Rican/Cuban husband and the first thing that came out of his mouth was "vagabundo" which is hard for me to say w/o laughing because I would never in a million years use "vagabond" to describe a homeless person. Then he suggested the Spanglish "bom/bommy" for bum.
Aahh, this is starting to confuse me =)

Eileen said...

Thanks for doing some research for us, Kristen. You know, in Chile people also say vago, but it's pretty pejorative, as it's used to describe stray dogs (or street dogs as I sometimes call them, a back formation from the also Spanish perro callejero.

I take vago (which is not the same as vagabundo, I know) to mean vagrant or wandering, kind of a drifter. I also like the blamelessness of "homeless" as opposed to "panhandler, bum, vagrant, etc" People become homeless for a lot of reasons, most of them societal, some of them personal, but I wouldn't want to lump anyone together and call them a name that has an underlying idea of "it's all your fault."

Anyone else got a favorite term you think we should be using? I'm all ears!

EW said...

Nice post! Techo is a great organization, but I agree, it's still hard to ignore translation errors like that.

Speaking of grammatical errors, I can't help but point out that you've got one of your own (although much less serious): in the last paragraph, it should be "ITS bureaucracy," not it's with an apostrophe. Normally I wouldn't point it out - everyone makes mistakes occasionally - but since you were talking about errors ...

And while I'm posting, I have to say I really enjoy reading your blog. Your style of writing is captivating, & of course I love reading about Chile!

Eileen said...

Thanks EW, now that's careful reading! You're welcome to comment any time, and glad you like reading about Chile! But you have no link to tell us who you are. Who are you?

Michelle said...

Oh, and I should say that rooves threw me... I thought it was roofs. Apparently, both are acceptable!

Eileen said...

Michelle, rooves threw me, too. I wrote it, then looked at it, then looked at it again, and decided that I actually say "rooves" (on the few occasions when the word is necessary), and that even if it wasn't a word, I liked the way it sounded and I'd like to use it anyway. I'm like that. Though it is nice to know that it actually is a word!

planetnomad said...

Very cool. I usually just either laugh or roll my eyes, depending on the mood, but good job for following through.
My latest? The English center where I work has a poster advertising their "Goup Classes." Squirm. I pointed it out. It was locally made, and the admin aren't native speakers although they have VERY high levels of English. !!!

Elisa said...

Sorry, this is "EW" - sometimes my computer doesn't automatically show my account, & I always forget to do it manually.

Anyway, I studied abroad in Mendoza for 6 months and traveled in Chile too, so I love the area. I want to go back, but can't afford it right now, so in the meantime I read all the Chile & Argentina blogs I can find. Yours is my favorite though!